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The Big Basketball Preview: Virginia at NC State

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball coaches will often break a season down into smaller sections of games, which can help keep a team focused on the present rather than the future. With three winnable games in five days, this feels like one of those smaller sections for Virginia Cavaliers Basketball. The Wahoos got off to a great start with the road win over Pitt. Next up is another road game, this time in Raleigh against the NC State Wolfpack.

Like Virginia, the Pack are having a down year. They’re under .500 on the season, and second from the bottom in the ACC standings. Last season, the Pack finished ninth and played in the NIT, so this is disappointing. The low point was a home loss to Wright State (KenPom #217). They managed to knock off the Hokies in Blacksburg three weeks ago, but are coming off a loss in the rematch against the Hokies, this time at home.

The Pack can score. Sophomore Dereon Seabron is third in the ACC in scoring, at over 19 per game. Two others also average more points per game than Jayden Gardner, who leads Virginia at 14 per game. All three are perimeter players, as the Pack really do not have an interior presence.

Manny Bates was expected to be that presence, but he injured his shoulder and will miss the entire season. Ebenezer Dowuona starts and is fourth in the ACC in blocks, but provides very little offensively. Dowuona and a pair of reserve big men average a combined 7.7 points per game, well below Bates’ 10 ppg from last season.

In fact, the Wolfpack’s top six in scoring, FGA and usage rate are all perimeter players. The biggest of those is 6’7” 200 pound Jericole Hellems. Hellems was NC State’s leading scorer last season, but has ceded some shots to the dynamic guards around him. Hellems’ usage rate is down a bit, but his efficiency is up as is his scoring. Hellems is making over 40% of his threes.

This is obviously bad defense from Louisville. But that is what a perimeter oriented team will bring you. Hellems is the biggest of those guys, and often has a mismatch against an interior player. For example, Jayden Gardner will likely be on Hellems for much of this game. Gardner will be closer to Hellems than this though.

Seabron is also 6’7”, but a much different player. He averaged five points per game last season. His strength is in transition.

This is some kinda body control, especially for a guy that tall. Seabron is also second in the ACC in rebounding. This is how NC State wants to play. Seabron gets the rebound and immediately starts the fast break.

Their problem this season has been defense, or lack thereof.

This was right off the opening tip on Wednesday. Are they playing zone? Who is guarding who? At one point, an NC State player looks to box out his own man. Nobody goes anywhere near the shooter. Too easy.

Dowuona is a good shot blocker, but he can’t really bang inside with ACC big men. He is actually listed 10 pounds smaller than last year, when he barely saw any action all season. NC State is one of the worst teams in the nation on the defensive glass. Seaborn has more than twice as many rebounds as anybody else on the team.

It isn’t just the glass though. Too many easy buckets and not enough turnovers forced for such an aggressive defense.

Here’s an example where the Wolfpack are able to get out in transition but unable to convert. That leads to an and-1 on the other end.

If you weren’t tracking, former Wahoo Casey Morsell is now playing for NC State. The change in scenery seems to have helped, as he’s made 37% of this threes after making just 20% in orange and blue. He’s shooting more threes (almost half of his shots), which is probably good since he’s under 33% on two pointers.

That underscores another issue NC State has... Mostly, though they have a couple who can score, they really can’t shoot. They’re 229th in the nation in three point percentage. And 231st in two point percentage.

Their top shooter, at least by volume, is freshman Terquavion Smith. Smith does not hesitate.

Smith’s best games have often been NC State’s best games. He shot 5/22 from downtown in the last two (losses to Duke and Virginia Tech), but 10/18 from downtown in wins over Louisville and the Hokies. Smith will likely battle on both ends with Reece Beekman. There really isn’t defense for that shot above, but Beekman will make him work for his points.

And Beekman will also have an advantage on the other end over the 160 pound Smith. We appear to be watching Reece Beekman grow into his potential over the past few weeks.

On the season, Beekman is averaging 8 points, 5 assists and he is shooting 43% from the field and 30% from downtown. In ACC play, Beekman is up to 10 points per game. Maybe that doesn’t seem like much, but he’s also shooting 59% from inside the arc and 38% from behind the arc in ACC play. Those are tremendous numbers for a point guard.

And, of course, Beekman is still dishing the way we know he can.

Wow.

Virginia strengths are scoring and defending inside. NC State’s weaknesses are scoring and defending inside. Obviously, either team could get hot from outside (NC State shot 12/25 from downtown in their road win over Louisville) and run away with it. But unless that happens, Virginia seems to have the edge.